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Were You There: Stumbling and Rising

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Editor’s note: In a follow-up to his post Libre Soy, recently-returned missioner Jeff Sved reflects on how he sees Christ’s struggles and stumbles on the Way of the Cross reflected in the lives of the friends and inmates with whom he served throughout his ministry.

Were you there when Jesus stumbled for the first time?

Were you there when Jesus stumbled for the second time?

How about the third?

How many of the disciples, Christ’s friends, were there still following when Jesus fell that third time?

Reflecting on the Stations of the Cross, I’m struck by how readily I see the faces of many of my friends in Jesus’ stumbling and falling, again and again.

During my four years on mission in Bolivia, I served in the prisons in Cochabamba. Often that would include visiting friends from the prisons while they were in Hospital Viedma for a variety of medical reasons. It was while visiting another friend from El Penal San Antonio that I met Jose.

I’ve talked about Jose* before, and his friendship continues to impact me.

I was not there when Jose* stumbled for the first time, but I was there when he got back up.

I was there when he stumbled for the second time, and the third. That second hello turned into a second goodbye, followed by a third hello. It was difficult, but truly it was a privilege to share in the joys of freedom with him…paired with the pain of falling repeatedly.

When we talk about ministry of presence, this is what we mean: Being present in those joys and the pain.

The stigma that comes with being labeled a criminal is Jose’s cross to bear, a weight that makes it easier to stumble again and again. But how do we as a society step in like Simon of Cyrene, and help our brothers and sisters carry this burden?

During Lent, we walk with Jesus in His suffering, looking forward to that day of Resurrection, looking forward to our own freedom—of singing Libre Soy.

Reflection Question: How can you practice accompaniment today, striving to be present with another person in their pain as well as their joys?

* name changed to respect the anonymity of the individual

Jeff Sved served in Cochabamba, Bolivia, from 2013-2016. His main ministry was working with inmates in seven prisons throughout Cochabamba.

Prior to joining FMS he served in Wilmington, Del., with Franciscan Volunteer Ministry teaching math in a prison and teaching English to members of the Latino community. Originally from Pittsburgh, Penn., and a graduate of Villanova University.